Women in advertising reflect on breaking the glass ceiling & making way for future leaders – IGWIIKI

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In conversation with Social Samosa, women in advertising talk about the tough reality of working as a woman and how they are breaking the norms every day.

Strong women in leadership roles can uplift and change courses. While India has come a long way in terms of educating women and viewing them as equals, there’s still a long journey ahead; especially when it comes to women in the workspace. Every year, November 19 is celebrated as ‘International Women’s Entrepreneurship Day’, where the world honours and appreciates all the white-collar women doing their bit to break the age-old stereotypes. We take this opportunity to understand the opinion of women in advertising.

Despite dedicating an entire day to ‘the working women’, the reality of working as a woman in a “man’s world” is nothing short of fighting a battle. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, only 37% of women are in leadership roles overall in media & communications, compared with 63% of men. Apart from this drastic gap, there are many hidden issues that women in high-ranking roles face on daily basis. 

Although the world is trying to push the narrative of ‘The future is Female’, many industries still can’t overcome the differences that women were facing 3-4 decades ago. 

Celebrating women in the corporate world, today and every day; Social Samosa talks to 8 women in advertising who are doing their part to break the norms and pave the way for future leaders. 

Changing Workplace dynamics in India 

Vanaja Pillai, DDB Mudra Group

Indian working women have come a long way and so has the workplace culture. Though the changes might seem to happen, it still needs loads of work to be done. Talking about this, Vanaja Pillai, Head – Diversity, Inclusion & Impact, DDB Mudra Group states, “Workplace dynamics have changed more rapidly in the last couple of decades than ever before, and the pace of this change continues to keep us on our toes. We are having to look at systems, policies, training and development, people engagement and leadership with a new lens every day.” 

Further adding to this, Vanaja mentions where the industry needs improvements. She mentions that the A&M industry needs to focus on things like having conversations with the CEO, an increased focus on educating ourselves from a DEI lens, or a concerted effort to find talent in non-traditional ways; the industry has to experiment and widen its thinking in every aspect. 

Archana Gulia, ODN Digital Service

Archana Gulia, CCO – ODN Digital Service says, “We have come a long way, but there’s still so much more to do. Thankfully the salary slip doesn’t give away the employee’s gender anymore.” She further explains that nonetheless, there are still factors that can’t be ignored, like the fact that as an industry, we are still struggling with the gender ratios in our offices. Archana goes on to say, “We are guilty of leaving the women out when it comes to handling top positions and leading teams.”

Chandni Shah, Kinnect

Chandni Shah, Founder & COO – Kinnect mentions, “We have made significant progress toward gender equality in the last few decades, especially in Indian boardrooms. However, more equitable representation of women on boards is required to promote gender equality as a societal goal and for business reasons.”

The Post-Pandemic World 

COVID-19 was a time that pushed many people to move on from their jobs. Women were especially forced to choose between their careers and personal lives. However, even with things opening up a lot of these women have not returned to the workplace. 

Neha Puri, Vavo Digital

Elaborating on this, Neha Puri– Founder & CEO at Vavo Digital says, “The pandemic almost immediately impacted women’s employment. Compared to one in five males, one in four women considers leaving their employment or downshifting their careers. Along with losing income, the burden of unpaid care and domestic labour has increased for countless women in economies of all sizes.” 

As per a LinkedIn study, 85% of women in India have missed out on a raise or promotion because of their gender. Women’s careers are observed to have been more adversely affected despite increasing flexibility at work, as 68% of women and 74% of working mothers in India say it is difficult to balance career and familial responsibilities today. More than 7 in 10 women and working mothers in India also say that household responsibilities often come in the way of their career progression.

Shradha Agarwal, grapes

Speaking of the new norm that the pandemic brought forward, Shradha Agarwal, Co-Founder, and CEO- grapes adds, “The shift to a hybrid work model has led employers also to trust their employees. It has enabled them to work effectively and efficiently from anywhere. Companies have learned to adjust to the new way of working, but what requires is that employees deliver quality work while taking ownership of the work.” 

Anisha Iyer, OMD India

Anisha Iyer, CEO, OMD India explains, “A lot of people believe that the pandemic played a role in a lot of women losing their jobs but it is a bit more complicated than that.” She further dissects how men have more freedom in that regard since more often than not, it is the women who must juggle multiple responsibilities, including those at home. 

Anisha also highlighted how society is still largely a patriarchal one where men are expected to go to work and women have to stay back at home, and as a result of that, women demand more flexibility and the freedom to work from the convenience of their homes.

Workplace Sexism & Gender Pay-Gap

Sexism exists in all walks of life, right from kindergarten schools to high-paying jobs. Despite this reality, organizations are trying their best in blurring gender bias and eliminating workplace sexism. The discussions on gender-based pay gaps and the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions are quite rife.

Talking about her own experience, Shradha Agarwal says, “As per my experience in the A&M industry, I have observed that women are given equal opportunities, and instead of questioning and doubting their decisions, their ideas and strategies are welcomed. I have encountered many times that they are better decision-makers.” 

Neha Puri adds, “The worldwide gender gap won’t be closed for another 132 years. This forecast has frequently been utilised as a shock treatment to motivate organisations, associations, investors, and businesses to take action. From entry-level positions to the C-suite, women continue to be under-represented at every level of the workforce.”

Adding to this, Chandni Shah says, “We have made significant progress toward gender equality in the last few decades, especially in Indian boardrooms. However, more equitable representation of women on boards is required to promote gender equality as a societal goal and for business reasons.” 

Talking about how times have changed for working women in years, Archana Gulia says, “Our mothers and their peers have struggled at getting basic amenities such as clean washrooms, anti-harassment policies, comfortable public transport etc! Thankfully we have been able to ensure workplace safety and well-being with education and awareness.”

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Breaking the Glass Ceiling

As per Egon Zehnder, Global Diversity Report 2020, women in India occupy 5% of executive chairs and 10% of non-executive chairs. The report indicates that only 11% of committee chairs are held by women, while the number stands at 27.3% globally.

Speaking on the current reality, Neha Puri explains, “The requirement in India for public companies to have at least one female director is one of the main reasons you have better representation on paper. The mandate here is to check boxes but counting women on boards is just the first step. To ensure that businesses can benefit from diversity, we need to make their presence count.” 

Vanaja Pillai adds, “While the advertising and media businesses have for a while had a good proportion of women, it is true that we see lesser representation at the top levels.  We definitely have extremely talented women across ranks today, and we hope to get an equal representation of genders at every level in the next few years.” 

Elevating More Women To Key Positions  

Organisations today are pushing forward to create a safe and flexible workplace for women. In India, the A&M industry is actively trying to elevate women in key positions. 

Talking about how the industry can better help women in high positions, Chandni Shah says, “As a leader at Kinnect, I have always strived to attain a 50-50% ratio of the workforce, providing equal opportunities and pay scales to our women leaders basis the skillsets they possess.” 

She further states that gender equality in the workplace begins with the hiring process. Creating accurate and inclusive job descriptions, a gender-diverse candidate pipeline, and fair interviews to contribute to a diverse and equitable workplace; the hiring process must be free of internal bias.

Sowmya Iyer, DViO Digital

Sowmya Iyer, Founder & CEO, DViO Digital states, “Our current workforce has a fair divide of 55:45 women to men ratio; a similar trend can be seen in our leadership team, which has a 60:40 ratio (60% women and 40% men), which is not by design but by default.” 

Chanda Singh, XP&D

Chanda Singh – CEO, XP&D says, “Treat them as equals. In any workplace role, there is nothing a man can do and a woman cannot. Give equal opportunities and let the skilled workforce speak for themselves. Leaders have to lead by example.” 

Whether it be the A&M industry or any other field, promoting women and helping them climb the corporate ladder shouldn’t be a special thing done by organisations, it should be a norm. Times have changed and this must be a default for any industry. Organizations need to honour and respect people’s life goals and give them the deserved opportunity irrespective of their gender or age, giving them the fair chance to flourish.


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